Yesterday afternoon, the SEAS Class of 2014 took their metaphorical first step into the real world. Extended Housing Squatter Kevin Chen went to watch the festivities.
As per usual, the first person to speak was the class president, Daniel O’Leary. He went on in the conventional manner: a joke about hard problem sets and late-night ramen, urging graduates to thank their parents and keep in touch with their friends, and of course, mentioning the 150th anniversary of engineering at Columbia. O’Leary congratulated the Class of 2014 on its high participation at Lerner Pub and Senior Nights, and on all the amazing projects on display at the Senior Design Expo. Given what they have accomplished in just four years, he challenged the class to keep up the pace even after several decades in the field.
The next speaker was Jon Oringer, SEAS’98 and the creator of Shutterstock, Bwog’s favorite stock image site. “I wasn’t exactly the model student. I was coding websites by night, and sleeping by day,” Oringer confessed. The key to his lifelong passion for building things was to embrace failure. He gave the example of inventing the pop-up blocker—his tenth failure and first success. The program sold well until Microsoft built the same feature into Internet Explorer and gave it away for free. Oringer was out of business almost overnight. Later, he would start four companies: a dating site, an ad network, an online will creator, and a stock photo site. The first three failed—but those failures were necessary to find the fourth success. “Some people are not willing to pay” the price of failure. Oringer advised the Class of 2014 to continue trying new things in the face of failure, and also, to keep an eye on what Microsoft is doing. “You will fail. All of you. And nothing fills me with greater hope.”
Valedictorian Alden Quimby returned to his seat after receiving his award, seeming to forget that he had a speech to give and prompting a chuckle from the audience. In a heartfelt speech, Quimby spoke about career-changing experiences that came from straying from his plans. He originally wanted to major in financial engineering, but took a year off to work at a health startup. He wondered whether it was the right choice: “Startups crash and burn all the time, but the government always bails out Wall Street.” Spending a year at the startup taught him that “Googling is the most important skill of software engineering” and allowed him to find what he truly wanted to do: computer science. For Quimby, stepping off the path was worth it—he reminded everyone that it’s never too late to carve out a new one.
Woo Hyeun (Andrew) Kang was the graduate student speaker. Starting off with a fake speech that literally followed a template he found on the Internet, Kang had the audience in stitches: first, he thanked his family. Then he talked about the school: “columbia engineering. such amazing. much awesome. very knowledge.” Next, it was time for some reminiscing: “Remember all those crazy late nights?” And finally, the meaningful advice: “Never, ever do a PhD!” Kang transitioned to his actual topic: hangovers. He compared studying at Columbia to being drunk on knowledge and opportunity. And now that the party is over, the graduates have to deal with the risk of slowing down. “Get the Gatorade ready,” Kang suggested, encouraging his classmates to keep pushing forward (and/or partying).
SEAS Dean Mary Boyce started her speech with her signature lines: “this is the age of engineering,” “the power of engineering has never been more apparent,” and “engineering is in a renaissance period.” She reminded the newly minted engineers that engineering has increased crop yields and brought electricity to many parts of the world, but emphasizes the importance of solving upcoming problems, like smarter cities and more personalized medicine. Oh, and everyone’s favorite, big data. She acknowledged that the grads may not have “engineer” in their future job titles—especially if they end up in business or law—but that SEAS has prepared them to be adaptable and to have an engineering mindset.
Finally, it was time for PrezBo to speak. He kept his remarks short again, so that he’d have more time to address them at the university-wide commencement on Wednesday. Echoing Dean Boyce, PrezBo mentioned that in every field—including his favorite, freedom of expression—technology plays a central role. He then went on to explain that “respect for truth and understanding” are the “habits of mind that characterize” life in academia. But outside of Columbia, grads will be asked to think instead about what will work and what will persuade others, regardless of the truth. PrezBo believes that there’s nothing wrong with this—as long as they keep alive the voice that asks for the truth.
All twelve pages of the graduates’ names were read, and they all got to shake hands with PrezBo. Bwog had to leave immediately after the ceremony ended and, unfortunately, missed out on the cookies.
Congratulations, Class of 2014!